Tag: World population

How to feed 7 billion people?

The world reached a population of 7 billion people at the end of October 2011. United Nations symbolically chose Danica May Camacho, a girl born in Philippine, to mark this global population milestone. I recently wrote about the world population getting older, about non communicable diseases becoming the most dangerous threat to health (here too) or about World Population Day(11th of July 2011). We are now 7 billion and new projections tells us we will be 9.3 billion in 2050. When I heard all the news around this, I couldn’t help but think about Hans Rosling’s presentation on population growth at TED Cannes, in 2010.

In this presentation, Hand Rosling made a small recap of the situation in 1960, when the world was divided between 1 billion wealthy people and 2 billion poor people. He made this situation more obvious by plotting the number of children per women -vs- the percentage of child survival.

Hans Rosling's population in 1960

Then, if you watch the movie (watch it at the end of this post), you’ll see how the different populations evolved to the situation of 2005 where the differences were still there but less marked than in 1960. And all this was thanks to soap, hygiene, education, vaccination, family planning, …

Hans Rosling's population in 2005

So, one thing is to worry about what would be the world with 7 or 9 billion people. Another thing is to prepare the environment (i.e. both our container – the earth, its ecosystems, its water resources, etc. – and its content – us, other animals and plants, etc.) to cope with such an amount of people. And a third thing is to try to curb that curve and find ways to slow the world population progression.

In the remaining of his talk, Hans Rosling states that one way to curb this population growth is to continue to improve child survival to 90%. This would help reach a sustainable size population of the world. Unfortunately there isn’t any “gold recipe” in order to improve child survival. Two general goals can achieve this (as well as achieve many other things): an improvement in education and a reduction in poverty.

Fertility predictors, from Science magazine

If you improve education (especially of girls/women because they will become/are mothers, they could give their voice in that matter if we give them enough power), you will decrease fertility. The less children you have, the more time you have to take care of each of them, to give them more education, to feed them properly. On the other hand, if you reduce poverty, you also decrease fertility and, at the same time, you have more wealth to take care of your children, to send them to school and to give them proper food. This is not always the case, just generally the case.

Improving child survival will not solve all the issues. An addition of 2 billion people during the next 35 years or so is something big and it will have an impact of every aspect of our lives. But I really like the idea of having a leveraging effect starting from the improvement of child survival.

I let you watch Hans Rosling’s talk, now …

Yesterday was International Day of Older Persons

On 14 December 1990, the United Nations General Assembly designated 1st of October the International Day of Older Persons. 1990 … it is already more than 20 years ago! People who signed the resolution at that time are now more than 20 years older. Some (most) of them probably are now considered as “old persons”. Do they still have the same view on elderly? Maybe the highlighted principles at that time (independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment, dignity, …) are too broad, too short, just enough?

So, already a century ago 😉 people were concerned by the dramatic changes in the composition of the world population. Thanks to progresses and greater availability of preventive measures and treatments more people are living longer and healthier. Even in countries where fertility rate is high, there will be less and less working-age adults per older adult. When you look at China, the percentage of people above 65 years old is projected to rise up to one fourth of the total population in only 40 years.

Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in China
Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in China (partial data from Leeder et al., Columbia University, 2005)

Imitating other countries like the USA, UK, the Netherlands, etc., Belgium recently launched its Open Data Initiative. Well, don’t expect fancy graphs nor any “web 2.0” widgets, it’s only a repository of data made available elsewhere. Most (if not all) data is provided “as it is”, in proprietary formats and not easily combined nor even visualized. So I welcome this initiative but just wish it will be at least maintained and updated or, better, grown into something better, just like other government open data websites. A dream will be to have at least direct data manipulation online, downloads in open formats, a clearly open license and why not an open API?

So, what about the elderly in Belgium? There is a section about population forecast by age (which comes from the economy ministry in Excel format).

Projected aging of population in Belgium
Projected aging of population in Belgium (data from http://data.gov.be)

The Belgian population will continue to increase. The older population in Belgium will increase faster than the younger population. But seen like this, the growth will not be very dramatic.

Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in Belgium (data from http://data.gov.be)
Actual and projected percentage of people above 65 in Belgium (data from http://data.gov.be)

If we look at the projected percentage of people above 65 years old, we see that Belgium in 2010 is already at the same status as China in 2040. If experts say China will have an alarming percentage of old people in the future, the future is already here in Belgium! But it’s also true that Belgium took many decades to achieve this allowing some adaptations to take place. China will achieve it in only a few decades and will have to cope with these changes very quickly.

UN highlighted some challenges and ways to overcome them at a country / government level. The main issues will be to maintain older people as much as possible the same levels of health and independence as they enjoyed during their active lives.

N.B. For other sources of data in Belgium, one may be interested in visiting the Bureau fédéral du Plan, Statistics Belgium and the Statistics section of the National Bank of Belgium.